Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors in Health and Disease
Ronald J. Lukas, PhD, Director
Both nicotine and acetylcholine act on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Acetylcholine is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter used by many nerve cells to send chemical signals to their targets. Nicotine is a biologically active component of tobacco. These two molecules have additional structural nuances in three dimensions that are not evident in two dimensions.
One face of the acetylcholine molecule has a structure that is mimicked by that of one face of the nicotine molecule. This analogous face of each molecule is recognized by nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.
Another face of the acetylcholine molecule has a structure that is mimicked by muscarine, a chemical obtained from a particular type of mushroom. Acetylcholine and muscarine can act on other kinds of neurotransmitter receptors, called muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Muscarinic receptors have functions and structures quite distinct from those of nicotinic receptors. It is fascinating that nature has used one chemical, acetylcholine, in the signaling of two strikingly different kinds of receptors.
For more information about nicotine receptors, visit The Ligand Gated Ion Channel Database. [This website link is provided for your convenience only. Barrow Neurological Institute does not necessarily endorse nor is responsible for the content in any way.]